Fowler’s penalty for illegal drop reaches new heights in silliness

The revolutionary revisions to the Rules of Golf, for the most part, make a ton of sense. They save time, which was the main idea. The pros seem to have adapted to them rather quickly.

The idea was to eliminate the silly old rules.

Now it’s time to revise a sometimes silly new rule.

Rickie Fowler got penalized the other day for an illegal drop. He did it the old way, from shoulder height. The new way is from knee height.

Why the switch? The U.S. Golf Association website explains the new rule here. And I get it – there was nothing more maddening than watching someone have to re-drop from shoulder height because their ball kept rolling away. Definitely a time-waster.

But what happened to Fowler was just plain wrong.

First, he looked like all of us when he hit a shank. I’m sure I wasn’t the only viewer who saw that and said, “Wow, I thought only I do that.” (Never mind that Justin Thomas did it last week at Riviera.)

Fowler was so stunned, he had his caddie toss him another ball, and then he dropped it – from shoulder height. His caddie should have noticed, but he was looking the other way.

Then Fowler went ahead and played the shot, and he soon was informed that it would be a one-stroke penalty for an illegal drop.


I can understand when not following a rule gives the player an advantage. But dropping your ball from shoulder height is most definitely a disadvantage.

So I have a simple solution: Change the rule to read, “between knee and shoulder height.”

Most players will do it from knee height because that’s a clear advantage. You have a better chance of getting a decent lie.

But if you forget and drop it from a higher level, so what? Maybe you don’t feel like bending over. Maybe hip height feels better. Maybe you just like to do it the old way. And if the ball rolls away because you held it up higher as you let go, you can drop it from knee height to speed things up.

In this case, Fowler dropped it once and played it. It didn’t take any extra time. He just had a brain sprain because he’s done it the old way for so long.

There have been conflicting reports regarding what the pros think of the new rules.

For the most part, they seem to have embraced them. While it’s still jarring, at least to me, to watch them attempt a putt with their ball on the green and the flagstick in the hole, more and more of them are doing it every week. I suspect I’ll be doing the same thing before long if I can get mentally in tune with having the pin in my line of sight.

But I’ve also read stories of USGA officials getting an earful of complaints from the pros about the changes. Of course, the pros have been known to gripe about a lot of things, especially bumpy greens.

Overall, though, I consider the results a success. The USGA took seven years and polled 30,000 golfers before rolling out the new rules, and I think our great game is better for it.

But there needs to be at least one adjustment. Penalizing someone one stroke for taking a drop that’s a disadvantage doesn’t make any sense. They dropped the ball on that one.

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